Belle époque architecture, small art galleries and green squares fringed with cafés might not be how one normally imagines Mexico City – but the La Roma district offers this to prospective buyers and a new group of young residents.
During the early 20th century Roma was home to the bourgeoisie, who built the neo-colonial mansions that line its streets today. But after the Mexican Revolution of 1910 it fell into decline, and its fall from grace was accelerated dramatically by the devastating 1985 earthquake.
In the past five years Roma has re-invented itself as a haven for those who love its faded glamour and architectural beauty. Cafés, bars and restaurants flourish here. Its buildings lend it a European flavour, but the atmosphere remains unmistakeably Mexican.
This resurgence, coupled with low rents, has attracted a new wave of residents: artists, writers, designers and young families have joined the old timers.
Now developers have picked up on the trend, and glass-and-concrete apartment blocks are springing up among the beaux-arts façades. But residents are proud to stress that Roma still feels like a barrio. They say that you can find anything here, from designer trainers to antique furniture, all within a few blocks.
As well as looking great, the neighbourhood is very walkable due to its grid-pattern streets. It is also easily accessible, about 10 minutes from Mexico City’s historic centre and about 30 minutes (depending on traffic) from the airport.
La Roma is lower key than its ritzy neighbour Condesa, and people who live in Roma are fighting to keep it that way.
It is their slightly shabby, but always charming, secret.
Kick off your Roma experience with breakfast at Casa Lamm, a mansion on Avenida Álvaro Obregón. On your way out, stop for a browse in the Pegaso bookshop. Then head right along Álvaro Obregón to Caravanserai to check out its teas and objets. Crossing over Álvaro Obregón along Orizaba you reach Plaza Luis Cabrera, surrounded by cafés. Rounding the square and heading back down Orizaba you reach the quirky Travazares taberna, the ideal spot for a light lunch.
Turning left out of Travazares and then left along Chihuahua for two blocks you come across number 191 – the “earthquake house”, almost destroyed in the 1985 earthquake and now squatted. Continuing along Chihuahua you then turn right into Monterrey where the gourmet’s delight, Delirio delicatessen, on the corner of Álvaro Obregón, is a welcome change of scene.
Crossing back over Álvaro Obregón you will see Segundo Aire, a second-hand furniture store where the occasional gem can be discovered. A left into Tonalá and a right into Colima bring you into bohemia central. Scattered among the art galleries is Sexe by Accident – a treasure trove of antique erotica, followed by streetwear store Lemur and then Chic by Accident for 20th-century antiques. Further along Colima is the Shelter sneaker boutique for new brands and across the street is Kong, a graphic design shop and gallery.
Turning right out of Kong on to Córdoba and then left on Durango you come to Plaza Rio de Janeiro, edged by turn-of-the-century mansions – one of which houses Galeria OMR – with a bronze replica of Michelangelo’s David in its fountain. Continuing along Durango beyond Rio de Janeiro for five blocks takes you to the Fuente de Cibeles, where it is time for pre-dinner cocktails in Cibeles, Roma’s hangout for the young and beautiful.
Surrounding Fuente de Cibeles you have three dinner options: Tierra de Vinos, serving Spanish food and specialising in wines; reliable and friendly Italian perennial Il Postino; or La Tecla’s offering of Mexican alta cocina. Retracing your steps to Plaza Luis Cabrera and a block and half beyond on Orizaba brings you to La Botica mezcaleria. And if a night on mezcal makes you peckish, you can head back down Orizaba, turning left into Álvaro Obregón to munch on tacos and quesadillas at Tacos Alvaro O for a true Mexican finale.
Taxi drivers may ask you for the street and cross street (many roads are very long, and it makes the location easier to pin down).
Álvaro Obregón 187
+ 52 (55) 5511 5521
A second-hand furniture store that also restores furniture. It stocks a mixture of art-deco pieces and 1970s kitsch.
Jalapa 85 (corner of Colima)
+ 52 (55) 3547 2182
A fashion store selling urban streetwear, including Stüssy, Adidas, and grown-up toys.
Chic by Accident
+ 52 (55) 5514 5723
Emmanuel Picault’s flagship store selling 20th-century antiques and his own designs to customers from all over the world.
Sexe by Accident
Colima 212 (between Tonala and Jalapa)
+ 52 (55) 5207 9282
Emmanuel Picault’s second shop, this discreet sex emporium displays erotic antiques and literature.
Alvaro Obregón 99
+ 52 (55) 5208 0174
This surprisingly extensive bookshop inside the Casa Lamm complex offers a wide selection in both English and Spanish.
Shelter sneaker boutique
+ 52 (55) 5208 6271
Hip wood-floored, sneaker boutique selling Nike trainers and Zoltar T-shirts and sweatshirts.
Colima 143 (corner of Cordoba)
+ 52 (55) 1054 6094
A graphic design-focused store/gallery selling posters, comics, T-shirts, CDs, magazines and books. They also put on exhibitions inside the shop.
Plaza Rio de Janeiro 54
+ 52 (55) 5511 1179
Holds six to eight exhibitions a year, focusing on contemporary Mexican and international artists. It also has a strong presence at international art fairs.
The “earthquake” house
A little bit of Roma history, this building (at Chihuahua 191) was destroyed by the 1985 earthquake but never demolished. Consequently its collapsing walls and piles of rubble have become home to squatters who have decorated it with signs and brightly coloured materials.
+ 52 (55) 5511 2877
A French-style teahouse at the back, and a small shop selling teapots at the front.
+ 52 (55) 5264 1421
A small, laid-back restaurant serving a variety of salads, pastas and sandwiches. It opens for dinner on Sundays, something that is hard to find in Roma.
Plaza Villa de Madrid 17
+ 52 (55) 5208 2029
Cibeles opened a few months ago and has become the place to be seen for Roma’s beautiful people. Try the pear and champagne Martini.
Tierra de Vinos
+ 52 (55) 5208 5133
Tierra de Vinos is both a wine shop/cellar and a fairly pricey restaurant with the most extensive wine selection in Roma.
Plaza Villa Madrid 6 (better known as Fuente de Cibeles)
+ 52 (55) 5208 3644
Probably one of the best Italian restaurants in Mexico City and certainly the best pizza place in Roma.
+ 52 (55) 5525 4920
A Mexican restaurant serving Mexican classics elegantly. Their salads are good and the sopa de tortilla is particularly tasty.
Orizaba (between San Luis Potos and Queretaro) Mezcal mania is sweeping Mexico City. This Roma mezcaleria is small and basic, with metal chairs and scribbled menus, but everyone loves it.
Tacos Alvaro O.
Álvaro Obregón 90 (corner of Jalapa)
Great for a late-night snack. This simple taqueria serves tacos, quesadillas, beers and more to night owls needing sustenance.
Casa de La Condesa
Plaza Luis Cabrera 16
+ 52 (55) 5535 8819
A small hotel (35 rooms) in a good location that offers extended stays.
+ 52 (55) 5286 3001
A self-styled “boutique” hotel with 29 rooms housed in a pink mansion, La Casona has been declared an artistic monument.
“It is a very green and beautiful neighbourhood. I like to walk around the parks like Plaza Rio de Janeiro and Plaza Luis Cabrera. It is also a very central colonia, and that is an enormous advantage in Mexico City today.”
34, director of the OMR art gallery
“I like the fact that Roma still has a barrio atmosphere, so when I walk to work I can buy my juice, drop off my shoes to be fixed, pick up my dry-cleaning… you create a bond with the people around you. Lots of the old houses here were built during the porfiriato [in the late 19th and early 20th century when Porfirio Díaz was president], which gives the colonia a touch of faded glamour.”
Chantal Ortiz Alonso
29, works in public relations
“Roma is so picturesque, and it has a bohemian personality. You never know what you are going to see on the street from one day to the next. I love the arts and crafts markets that pop up at weekends.”
Emiliano Garcia Martin
34, industrial designer
“There are people from all classes and walks of life living here together. You have everything close by and for all tastes and pockets, haute cuisine restaurants next to taquerias. I adore the Plaza Rio de Janeiro. I live next to it and wake to the sound of the fountain, birds singing, children playing.”
Emmanuel Picault38, antiques dealer and designer
“Roma blends down-to-earth with chi-chi. It is one of the only neighbourhoods in Mexico City where that mix exists. If I can compare Condesa to Ibiza, I would say Roma is more like Beirut. Roma is like its own small city inside an enormous one.”
A two-bedroom flat in Roma of 90-120 sq m will usually set you back between $80,000-$200,000 (around €60,000-€150,000). Renting the same flat costs between $600-$1,500 (around €400-€1,100) a month. When renting you may be asked to provide a fiador, or Mexican guarantor.
Real estate and construction company dealing wholly in new flats.
Century 21 (Kasa)
Buys, sells and rents properties.
www.vecasas.com.mx – a Spanish-language website with properties to rent and buy.
Check that the owner is in a legal position to sell the property. They must be able to provide a copy of the public deed (escritura publica) and a certificado de libertad de gravamen describing the property.
Hire your own lawyer, rather than using the seller’s or estate agent’s. The buying process begins when the seller accepts your offer and both parties sign a contract. Usually, the offer is accompanied by a deposit of 5 to 10 per cent of the offer price. Once the seller accepts the offer, the buyer is expected to deposit half of the agreed closing costs. Foreigners need to register ownership at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Local bilingual property lawyers
Alegre, Calderon y Martin
- 52 55 5511 7739
Peyton & Associates